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For those unfamiliar with Tyler Ramsey, he was the lead guitarist and one of the core songwriters in Band of Horses throughout their astronomical rise to the top of their game and, having left the group in May of 2017, has returned with his first work since 2011 and it was more than worth the wait.

‘For The Morning’ is clearly a labour of love for Ramsey and throughout the record it is evident that the success of Band of Horses and his presence in the group was no coincidence as from the opening chords to the final note, every song has been carefully crafted and honed to near-perfection. The album itself was born throughout a period of change for Ramsey – the birth of his daughter, a move to a new city and the realisation that it might be time to change the musical path he was on. The latter of these thoughts was what kick-started the writing process beginning with album highlight and lead-off track ‘A Dream of Home’ written in a hotel room in Nashville during a tour with his group. The song serves as a good introduction to the album as it highlights the personal lyrical content and serves as a perfect bridge from his work with Band of Horses to his personal output, sounding familiar yet fresh, a recurring theme throughout ‘For The Morning’.

It would be incredibly difficult to pick out individual tracks to review on this record as each one brings something to the table, from the acoustic piano opener of ‘Your Whole Life’ setting the lyrical tone and the atmosphere for what is come, through to the finger-picked guitar of ‘White Coat’ and leading on to a re-working of an old Band of Horses track called ‘Evening Kitchen’, renamed as ‘Evening Country’. Each track has something to come back to and with every listen there is more depth in the music to be discovered.

‘For The Morning’ was written and produced by Ramsey himself with the assistance of engineer Kevin Ratterman and touring musician Seth Kauffman in Louisville, Kentucky, and the team did an excellent job of capturing the essence of Americana and the spirit of what the music and the message intended to convey. They also enlisted the help of a number of other talented musicians to add to the listening experience and the texture of the tracks, including Molly Parden, Joan Shelley and Thad Cockrell on harmonies and Russ Paul on pedal steel, each adding their trademark stamp on the music and in turn, providing that depth that is waiting to be discovered with each run through.

Overall, it is clear to see both how much passion has gone into the recording of ‘For The Morning’ and how much of Tyler Ramsey’s talent contributed to the success of Band of Horses as in its purest form, unfiltered and straight from the source. Tyler Ramsey has a knack for writing beautifully composed pieces of music and combining that with his honest, personal approach to writing lyrics which has led him to create one of the best, and certainly most coherent, debuts in a long time and we can only hope that this is just the beginning of the next chapter in his career.

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‘What Rhymes with Cars and Girls’ was the first solo album by You Am I frontman Tim Rogers, and the only release featuring the backing band The Twin Set. I grew to love the album with every bone in my body from the time when I first heard it in Australia back in 1999, and so it seems did a theatre company in Melbourne, the city where the album originated, who turned the whole thing into a musical in 2015. As the Director of that musical said, the record is “somehow a conversation between lovers about the tricky business of love” and few do it as well as Tim Rogers. Just lovely.

Last Nite I Left My Heart All over the Place - YouTube
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“Chicago cosmic country!” thus David Quinn is introduced via the gimmick weary world of the media press release. The resulting introduction into the life of this travelling proponent of country rock tells a different story. From the northern woods of Wisconsin to the California pop-rock scene, right up to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and on down to Texas on what he calls his “quarter-life crisis”, there’s more to the man than the label.

Debut ‘Wanderin’ Fool’ sees Quinn working with producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray For The Riff Raff) with a backing band that includes David Roe (Johnny Cash) and Jimmy Lester (Hayes Carll). A stellar cast but what of the man himself? Well, he’s shared the stage with Sam Morrow, Josh Card and the Giving Tree Band, so not a half bad résumé.

While delving into ‘Wanderin’ Fool’ is by no means tiresome – indeed it’s difficult to pin down anything particularly wrong with it – at the same time tracks like ‘Grassy Trails’ are not overly inspiring. Which is surprising considering the amount of inspiration that has obviously led to this point. The title track gets as close to “cosmic” as anything else with its Gram Parsons-esque soaring guitar.

The lyrical path never strays too far from the country cliché which is so formulaic during single ‘Three Quarter Time’. It’s a comfortable space occupied by lines such as “A nickel or a dime/When you’re drunk on blackberry wine”. Images of a stately old-time waltz around a hard-up Texas honkytonk dance floor spring to mind. Elsewhere, ‘Wanderin’ Fool’ climaxes with a step away from this and coincidentally, the highlight of the album. ‘Where The Buffalo Roam’ is a tribute to Quinn’s Colorado days, the upbeat change of formula is a fantastic closer and in Quinn’s words “it’s the step-child of the record. It doesn’t fully fit”. An interesting final thought perhaps.

In My Dreams - SoundCloud
(192 secs long, 254 plays)Play in SoundCloud

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Hayes Carll is in a pretty good place right now. His new album ‘What It Is’ is a triumphant return to form following two releases which some considered somewhat flat. In addition,  at the start of an eight date tour of the UK in Manchester, he had some news to impart as he  announced that just three days earlier  he had married his partner, Alison Moorer.  This news was greeted with cheering and applause, something that was to be repeated regularly as the evening unfolded.

Opening up with ‘Wild as a Turkey’ from his 2008 LP ‘Trouble In Mind’ Carll played his strongest hand by taking the majority of the evening’s set from that album and from his latest release. He played only one song from each of the two intervening albums. So, armed with a great setlist and his engaging personality, the imposing figure of Hayes Carll set about entertaining the decent sized crowd. Interspersing his songs with some quirky humour, his anecdotes and stories very quickly had his audience entranced and enthralled. New songs like ‘None’Ya’ a reference to his new wife’s accent and ‘Jesus and Elvis’  which is about a bar in Austin, Texas, fitted in seamlessly alongside older favourites ‘Bad Liver and a Broken Heart’ and ‘Drunken Poet’s Dream’. A story about Ray Wylie Hubbard supplying him with the quote “He get’s it” for his press pack, only for him to then find exactly the same quote in Slaid Cleaves’s press pack, drew particular laughter.

The most magical live experiences are always those where the audience feel that the artist is enjoying themselves as much as they are. This was one of those nights. Hayes spoke warmly and genuinely about his host city for the evening and the venue, which he described as “one of my favourites, anywhere”. He talked too about previous visits to the city, all of which added to a close rapport with his audience. This culminated in him playing “something we’ve not done for a while now” explaining that the tongue-in-cheek humour of ‘She Left Me For Jesus’ wasn’t always appreciated elsewhere, but that “I think you folks get it”. Just to prove that point, the audience sang heartily along.

At the end of the night everyone left with a smile on their face. They ‘got it’ and if you like your country music with a large dash of irony, humour and the occasional more poignant note, then you will ‘get it’ too. As Hayes Carll chatted and signed merchandise after the show, he couldn’t hide his own broad smile. Just as his audience get him, he equally, gets his audience.

Travis Linville, who also doubled as Hayes Carll’s guitarist. opened up the evening with a short, but high quality set. Linville has released four albums in the last nine years. On this evidence he certainly warrants further investigation.

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It seems poetry books are a bit like buses – you wait ages for one and then two come along at once! Following on from our recent review of Doug Hoekstra’s ‘Unopened’ we now have David Berman’s acclaimed ‘Actual Air’ to evaluate – and this is quite a different beast! To start with, Berman’s book is a re-issue; originally released in 1999, this collection of modernist poems saw Berman hailed as a natural successor to Wallace Stevens and drew major critical acclaim from the likes of The New Yorker and G2. Twenty years on the impact of these poems has not diminished in the slightest. Now it is being re-issued, initially as a limited edition (one thousand copies) hardback, with a paperback run scheduled to follow.

David Berman will, of course, be known to many as the creative force behind The Silver Jews, the band he formed in 1989, initially with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich of Indie rock band Pavement, and ran until he disbanded the outfit in 2009. In recent years Berman has stepped back from the spotlight, writing poetry and essays that he has released via his Menthol Mountains blog. Now, with the re-issue of this seminal work and news that he has returned to recording with his new band, Purple Mountains, there’s much speculation that a new volume of his poetry could be in development – he certainly seems ready for a return to the public eye.

And what of the poems themselves. Those that know his songs will know that his music is pretty uncompromising stuff and that same attitude of no compromise runs through his poetry –

“Nothing had changed. He had retained his tendency
to fall in love with supporting actresses renowned for their near miss with beauty” (from ‘The Homeowners Prayer’)

Many of the poems have a surreal quality and what appears to be a stream of consciousness approach to their content. ‘Actual Air’ is the only book of poems that Berman has produced to date and it is fascinating to read so many of his verses in one place. This collection of poetry is not an easy read; shot through with strange imagery the author has described these poems as a “journey through shared and unreliable memory” and they do feel like a sneaky peak into the darker recesses of the writer’s mind and the strange things that go on there, almost as if you’re hearing fragments of dialogue between unidentified guests in an underlit room. It is a fascinating read that, every so often, throws up seams of dark humour –

“Walking through a field with my little brother Seth
I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason I told him that a troop of angels
Had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.” (from ‘Snow’)

and

““I refuse to be the middleman in a relationship
between you and the florist”
As they walked through the city,
He explained why he would never buy her flowers.” (from ‘Coral Gables’)

If you like poetry that challenges and entices you, that is weird and wonderful in equal measure, then you’ll want to read this book.

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‘Dead Man Blues‘ leads off Ben Hemming’s new album ‘The Devil Beside Me‘ which is released on May 31st. The song has a pulsing beat which adds an additional edge to Hemming’s unsettling growl of a vocal. Of the song Ben Hemming has said :”‘Dead Man Blues’ is really a metaphor for feeling ignored in a world that no longer shares your beliefs and actually it’s the first track on the new album because that sense of isolation and detachment is a central theme that runs throughout the record.”  Ben has some upcoming London dates, at The Luna on 18th May and on the 21st July at The Gladstone Arms.

Dead Man Blues - SoundCloud
(200 secs long, 25 plays)Play in SoundCloud

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Here in Merseyside we have americana coming out of our ears, and part of its illustrious history is down to Barry Jones who fronts the Southbound Attic Band, one of Liverpool’s musical institutions. This cracking tune is a tribute to the long-running folk/americana evening Grateful Fred’s founded by Colin Maddocks.

Ballad of Grateful Fred - Grateful Fred's Music Club - YouTube
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He may be on the wrong side of 70 but Nick Lowe isn’t one for letting the grass grow underneath his feet and his latest EP is a case in point.  It may only be four songs long but his sharp lyrics and consistent ability to wrap the words around a catchy melody seems undiminished over time.  Supported admirably by the quirkily named (and even more quirkily masked and attired) Los Straitjackets, Lowe has penned three original tracks in the shape of  ‘Love Starvation’ ‘Trombone’ and the tender ‘Blue on Blue’ while the fourth song is a highly modernised cover version of the somewhat obscure Ricky Nelson track ‘Raincoat in the River’.

If you didn’t know better you would be forgiven for thinking that ‘Love Starvation’ was a track you may have missed from the late seventies but as Lowe himself says “It has a kind of Ritchie Valens feel to it that I thought might suit Los Straitjackets. It’s funny, that song could’ve been a Rockpile song. But in a way, I don’t think I was good enough to write a song like that back then. It sounds like old stuff, but I’m just better at doing it now.”

Recorded in Woodstock, New York over a short break from touring, this EP is somewhat akin to turning up at a top-class restaurant only to find that they only serve hors d’oeuvres.  The four tracks are lovely and before you know it, they’re gone, and you are left yearning for the main course – which of course isn’t going to arrive in this case.  But you know what, it doesn’t really matter as those tasters were good enough on their own!  Nick Lowe is a bit of national musical treasure and long may his enthusiasm and creativity continue.

Nick Lowe - Trombone - SoundCloud
(252 secs long, 65 plays)Play in SoundCloud

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‘Stay Around’ is a posthumous collection of previously unreleased JJ Cale tracks curated by longtime friend and manager Mike Kappus and Cale’s musician widow Christine Lakeland Cale. Rarely can there have been such a rich treasure trove of unreleased material to draw on.  The album is jam-packed with familiar riffs, strum patterns, licks and lyrical phrases. Throughout a nearly half-century career Cale steadfastly refused to vary his trademark instantly recognisable laconic noodling guitar style and shuffling rhythms.  He did what he did and that was it.  And so it is with ‘Stay Around’; the vibe and groove is reassuringly consistent across all the tracks perfectly reprising a lifetime of understated musical genius.

Lauded by his peers as one of the most important and influential musicians writing and performing through the seventies, Cale arguably set the tone for a generation of blues rockers around the world. Starting out in the music business as a studio engineer in LA having moved from Tulsa in the 60’s, Cale was initially catapulted into the public consciousness through various covers by established artists such as Eric Clapton’s ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After Midnight’.  The appealing easy-going nonchalance of his songwriting is always masterful even in these recordings that were left uncut during his lifetime.  While other artists certainly have emulated Cale, none have done it better.

Posthumous albums have their place and value.  It’s good to take a moment to remember and reflect. Cale’s songs form part of the DNA of contemporary Americana music.  This album perfectly captures the humanity of the man. It’s imbued with a laid back easy going humility and kindness of spirit.  Much needed therapy for a troubled world and certainly, when listening to Cale the world seems a better, kinder, warmer, more friendly kind of place.

JJ Cale - Stay Around - SoundCloud
(280 secs long, 336 plays)Play in SoundCloud

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Just a little while ago Jamestown Revival would probably have found themselves being compared to the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, but here in the 21st century the topical comparison is the Milk Carton Kids.  That’s still not a bad thing.  ‘Round Prairie Road‘ is a real place, as Jonathan Clay explains the song, it “is about a piece of land out in the country that has been in my family since the 70’s. In fact, it’s the place where Zach (Chance) and I conceived the idea to start Jamestown Revival and where we wrote our first song for the band. As we spent the next 10 years of our life touring, a lot of things changed with the land. Oil companies came to exploit their mineral rights, fences went up and it felt like too many people had a key to the lock on that gate. It was our sacred little piece of paradise, but there was not a way to keep it unchanged – no matter how much we loved that place.”

Jamestown Revival - Round Prairie Road - YouTube
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